Here are some simple mathematic problems: one-fifth of three-and-a-half billion items, one-quarter of total distance equaling half a billion kilometres (a third of a billion miles), ninety thousand extra personnel working eight-hour shifts.
What are these numbers? They all describe the current problems my homeland is facing regarding the re-delivery of parcels by courier services. Nearly one-fifth of three-and-a-half billion items were not claimed upon first delivery. Approximately one-quarter of total distance traveled by delivery trucks was due to re-delivery, equaling half a billion kilometres, or a third of a billion miles. And the time spent for re-delivery by delivery personnel amounts to roughly ninety thousand extra personnel working eight-hour shifts.
Analysts say that the growth of e-commerce and a surge in purchase via the Internet of daily-use products by ordinary consumers are largely responsible for these numbers – the increase in the number of items handled by courier services over the past decade is almost equivalent to the number of items requiring re-delivery. They say that the trucks could have traveled to the sun and back, and then to the sun again, with the distance they ran in re-delivery. And they say that work environment can be greatly improved for delivery personnel just by minimizing re-delivery.
But how? The courier companies are re-negotiating with their business customers on the quantity and price of items they will handle, and raising delivery fee to be paid by ordinary consumers… but these measures are unlikely to slow down the speed at which we order anything and everything we want and need with a flick (or shall I say, click) of a finger and have them magically show up at our doorsteps as early as in the evening of the same day.
Delivery locker manufacturers are operating at full capacity to provide an alternative option to re-delivery, allowing consumers to pick up items whenever and wherever they wish… but they themselves are in turn working overtime and still are not meeting the demand. And since we live on such a small but overcrowded island, it is probably impossible to place enough lockers for everyone everywhere.
Logistics and IT specialists are working to create systems that can schedule delivery and re-delivery by the minute upon request from consumers and automatically find the best route for shortest travel distance and time for the delivery personnel… but is it not possible that perfecting this system will ultimately (but sooner than we think) lead to robots making deliveries on self-driving cars, and where would that leave the delivery personnel working their butts off all day and all night right now?
There is no doubt that the virtual world has shortened immensely the distance and time in the real world, but we are still not able to cross the border between the two. And until we can, maybe the problem remains real even if we spend more and more time in the virtual world. Maybe we must never forget to think about what we really can and cannot do when we explore what we virtually hope and dream to do.
For now, maybe we can acknowledge that it is no magic when parcels show up at our doorsteps, and give sincere thank you’s to the delivery personnel who brings them to us, rain or shine, over mountains and across rivers, as fast as they can.
Maybe it will not amount to anything real on their paycheques, but hopefully, it will add many digits to their virtual savings accounts for pride and satisfaction for all the hard work put in and jobs well done.
I shall remember to thank the delivery personnel who will bring to me in the real world the balls of thread for tatting I am about to put in a virtual order for.